WASHINGTON (AP) — The foot soldiers of the small government, anti-tax tea party movement dismiss the chatter about its demise and stand ready to use their unbending political force against both President Barack Obama and the Republican establishment this election year.
The Tea Party Patriots, one of the major grass-roots groups, marked the fifth anniversary of the movement Thursday, attracting hundreds of members and plenty of speakers to a Washington celebration in which they directed their animosity at the Washington establishment.
Tea partyers, who helped Republicans capture control of the House in 2010, made clear they don't like what the party establishment has done to their conservative agenda of limited government, free-market policies and what they consider fidelity to the Constitution. They signaled they will work hard to elect their uncompromising candidates no matter what the establishment does.
Keli Carender, national grass-roots coordinator, said the strength of the group was reflected in the $1.2 million and counting that it raised in 10 days.
Primaries this election year will be a crucial test for the movement as the Republican establishment has aggressively challenged tea party-backed candidates. Republicans blame the tea party for losses in winnable races in 2010 and 2012 that many believe cost the party a Senate majority.
Addressing the event, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, was interrupted by the crowd, which stood and cheered when he said, "It's high time we retire (House Speaker) John Boehner." When the applause died down, Huelskamp completed his sentence that it was "high time to retire John Boehner's biggest excuse that we only control one-third of the government."
Boehner, for his part, said Thursday that he has "great respect for the tea party and the energy they brought to the electoral process. My gripe is with some Washington organizations who feel like they've got to go raise money by beating on me and others."
If Boehner and other Republican leaders were drawing the movement's ire, Sen. Ted Cruz was collecting praise.
The Texas freshman and potential 2016 presidential candidate got a standing ovation and wild applause when he addressed the event, cheered for his fight last fall against Obama's health care law that precipitated the 16-day partial government shutdown. He offered no regrets and argued that the effort has proved successful in the long run, contributing to Obama's low approval ratings and the law's unpopularity.
Cruz drew a rousing response when he told the crowd he was "absolutely convinced we are going to repeal every single word" of the health care law.
Another tea party favorite and possible 2016 candidate, Sen. Rand Paul told the group it needs to offer a happy message.
Support for the tea party has declined slightly since 2010, when members rallied around opposition to the health care law.
Just ahead of the 2010 elections, an Associated Press-GfK poll found that 30 percent of adults considered themselves supporters of the tea party movement. By October 2013, that figure had dipped to 17 percent, then rebounded to 27 percent last month.
While tea partyers expressed frustration with the Republicans, they were fierce in their opposition to Obama.
Speakers described the president as an emperor, radical and socialist whose administration has abused its power. They railed against the Internal Revenue Service's audits that they argue target conservatives and other political groups on the right as well as the NSA surveillance as an intrusion on Americans' privacy.
Associated Press writer Charles Babington and Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.